Personnel: Jesse Winchester (vocals, guitar, piano); Bobby Cohen (guitar); Ron Dann (pedal steel guitar); Dave Lewis (drums).
Audio Remasterer: Mike Milchner.
Liner Note Author: Gene Sculatti.
Recording information: Studio Six, Montreal (10/13/1976).
So how do you promote an artist who can't tour the United States? Jesse Winchester made a major splash in the press with his self-titled debut album in 1970, but the record was cut in Canada for a reason -- Winchester, born in Louisiana, exiled himself to the Great White North in 1967 when he refused to be drafted into the military and serve in Vietnam. By the time he'd released his fourth LP, Let the Rough Side Drag, Winchester had a growing following in the United States, but he couldn't perform there. Thankfully, someone at his record company got the idea of having Winchester do a concert that would be beamed to radio stations in the United States as well as Canada. Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live in Montreal 1976 documents Winchester's performance in what was the first international live FM radio concert, and it's a superb testament to Winchester's gifts as a songwriter and a vocalist. The set list offers a sampling from Winchester's first four albums, as well as a few well-chosen covers (Jesse delivers a jaunty version of "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt," and his take on the Everly Brothers' "Bowling Green" sounds like it was written with him in mind), and Winchester's vocals are a master class in understatement, gracefully allowing small gestures to color his stories as his soft Southern drawl brings these tales to life. Winchester's songs here are typically excellent, from the rueful romance of "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" and "Yankee Lady" to the playful "Midnight Bus" and "Let the Rough Side Drag" (even the dated dope drought lament "Twigs and Seeds" has charm going for it), and his band is excellent as well, especially Ron Dann on pedal steel and Bobby Cohen on guitar. Very few performers are able to sound as compelling and charismatic with so little grandstanding as Jesse Winchester displayed on-stage, and Seems Like Only Yesterday captured him on a magical evening; it's a shame that someone couldn't have shown the guy in the audience with the kazoo the door, because it's one of the very few flaws on this splendid archival release. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter declared an amnesty for draft exiles, and Winchester was able to return to the United States, but without his sojourn in Canada, we might not have these albums, suggesting once again that sometimes these sorts of things happen for a reason. ~ Mark Deming
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